Review: Prey (2022)
The highest compliment I can award Prey is that it feels like neither a sequel or franchise fodder. Technically, it's the latest in a long line of Predator sequels and spin-offs, but the movie stands on its own by offering a self-contained story that doesn't require any past knowledge of the series or its lore. It also eschews many of the blockbuster's trappings by narrowing its scope to just a handful of characters, keeping the action intimate, and limiting the running time to a restrained 100 minutes--none of which are wasted. The film is a study in economic storytelling in which every part is in service of the whole. A steel trap that gets introduced in Act I gets used in Act II. A line of dialogue about the importance of keeping bow strings dry is foreshadowing of a future event. Everything is here for a reason.
Prey is a sci-fi survival story in which a Predator alien arrives on Earth in the year 1719 to hunt the most dangerous game. It finds that challenge in the form of a small tribe of Comanche Native Americans, but it's the character of Naru, played by Amber Midthunder, who ultimately stands toe-to-toe with the monster. She's not the overpowered, muscle-bound hero that we've seen in past Predator movies; instead, Prey presents Naru as a strong female lead with the same assurance of Ripley from the beloved Alien franchise, combining strength, determination, and intelligence into an underdog character with everything to prove. She's also pretty great with a tomahawk.
Prey makes its debut on the streaming platform Hulu--a distribution model that can rob films of their cinematic prestige--but my early concerns about this movie being toned down for TV audiences were unfounded. This is a gruesome movie with gallons of digital blood, dismemberments, and all the gory kills that long-time fans of these films expect. The hand-to-hand combat owes much to martial arts tradition and feels believable while the sci-fi action remains consistent with the universe as it has existed since 1987. The Predator's tech looks and behaves much like it did in the first movie, and there are numerous call backs to the roots of the series, both in dialogue and story elements.
It's hard to believe that this is director Dan Trachtenberg's second film--his first was 10 Cloverfield Lane, another self-contained horror tale built around a small cast. It's also hard to believe that this movie didn't get a theatrical run because I would have loved to have seen it on a big screen with an audience. Still, kudos to 20 Century Studios (and ultimately Disney) for giving us something truly new and unique here when a cookie-cutter action movie might have been the safe bet. Also kudos to this movie being offered in an alternate Comanche language version, lending the film even more immersion and authenticity. While I am not keen to see further sequels any time soon (we reward success with repetition and diminished returns), I must admit that the possibilities that this tale opens up are intriguing. What if we had a Predator story that takes place in Feudal Japan? Or perhaps Medieval Britain? What would happen if a Predator had come to prehistoric Earth in the time of dinosaurs? I'm getting carried away, but this movie has ignited my imagination and excited me in a way that big blockbuster sequels and tentpole films rarely do.
Prey is the rare Hollywood franchise entry that respects its history while also standing entirely on its own and comes highly recommended.